We do not have to look far to understand the problems of bureaucratic reform in the country. The Indonesian word for government is pemerintah, a modification of the word perintah, which means to order. So it is within the mindset of the Indonesian people that the job of the government is to order, a practice that was perfected by Javanese kings and queens who spoke to their subjects only to demand loyalty and tributes.
For centuries, this common practice continued to persist until modern times. The New Order regime of president Soeharto further refined the practice by using the bureaucracy to collect rent from businesses, in the process creating a massive system of kleptocracy.
The downfall of the Soeharto regime ushered in a bureaucratic reform, which was an attempt to free the government from corruption, collusion and nepotism. Every administration in the post-Soeharto era tried to undertake the reform, with the latest attempt carried out by former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who in his second term listed bureaucratic reform as his administration’s top priority in the Long-Term National Development Plan 2010-2025. The progress, however, has been very slow. Corruption continues to run rampant while the process of dealing with the bureaucracy remains a complicated one.
The administration of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, which will enter its third year today, has also declared bureaucratic reform its number one priority. He started off by campaigning on what he termed revolusi mental(mental revolution), which is aimed at transforming the culture of priyayi (privileged class) in the bureaucracy from one that demands service to one that delivers it.
While serving as mayor of Surakarta, Jokowi streamlined the bureaucracy by introducing a one-stop service for business licensing, a service he wanted to replicate at the national level.
In three years of his administration, Jokowi has unveiled 16 reform packages, most of which deal with deregulation and bureaucratic reform. There is reason to believe that the current reform could work, simply because Jokowi is the type of leader who demands results. The reason he travels so frequently around the country is because he wants to see progress being made firsthand.
Jokowi also has no qualms about publicly scolding government officials who fall short of their expectations. Earlier this week, the mayor of Medan, Dzulmi Eldin, issued a public apology after Jokowi scolded him for failing to fix pothole-filled roads in the North Sumatra capital.
Symbolically, Jokowi has made steps to bring a friendly face to the government. He gives out bikes to people who provide the correct answers to his quizzes and drops by at youth-oriented music concerts, which has burnished his image as a leader who is close to the people.
Rising sectarian tensions, the turf war between the military and the police and political corruption may continue to dog his performance, but, fundamentally, things are moving in the right direction.